This piece was written by a student who was denied access to the university’s mental health support services after deferring their studies.
In recent years, universities have made substantial strides in promoting themselves as inclusive and supportive institutions that prioritise the well-being of their students. They often display a commitment to diversity, mental health, and individual growth. However, a closer examination of their actions reveals a paradoxical situation. While universities claim to support all their students, the reality can be quite different when a student dares to deviate from the conventional academic path. One glaring example is when a student takes a break from their degree for a semester, only to find that their access to mental health support is abruptly cut. This discrepancy between rhetoric and reality raises important questions about the sincerity of university support systems and the toll on students’ mental well-being.
When students first step onto a university campus, they are greeted with an array of resources and support services. Brochures and websites proudly display messages of inclusivity, understanding, and assistance. Universities often promote mental health services as an integral part of their commitment to students’ holistic development. These services include counselling, therapy, and access to mental health professionals. Students are encouraged to reach out whenever they face challenges related to their mental well-being.
Students who take a break from their studies often do so to prioritise their mental well-being, seeking the time and space needed to heal, grow, and recharge. However, by stripping them of mental health resources precisely when they may need them the most, universities inadvertently exacerbate the stress and anxiety these students are already experiencing.
I still remember the day I first walked onto the University of Newcastle’s campus, naive and full of hope. The words “supportive” and “inclusive” echoed in my head, a prelude to the bitter reality that was about to unfold. The glossy brochures and the carefully crafted speeches were nothing more than a cruel façade, a mask the university wore to hide its true colours. On my temporary leave of absence, I discovered that the mental health services I accessed before were now suspended.
The impact was catastrophic. The isolation I felt was suffocating; the loneliness was an abyss from which there seemed to be no escape. The very place that should have been my refuge had become a desert of indifference, a harsh reminder that in the grand scheme of things, my well-being was expendable.
The message conveyed is one of conditional support – as long as students adhere to the predetermined path of a standard degree, they will receive care. However, the moment they deviate, they are left to navigate their struggles alone.
As I shared my story with others, I discovered that rhetoric.
The consequences of this paradoxical approach to mental health support can be devastating. Students, like me, who decide to take a break from their studies are often doing so to prioritise their mental well-being, seeking the time and space needed to heal, grow, and recharge. However, by stripping them of mental health resources precisely when they may need them the most, universities inadvertently exacerbate the stress and anxiety these students are already experiencing. This contradiction sends a message that mental health support is contingent upon conforming to academic norms, undermining the principle of holistic well-being that universities claim to champion.
To bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality, universities must realign their priorities and recognise the importance of unwavering support for their students’ mental well-being. This involves a shift in perspective from viewing mental health support as a convenience for enrolled students to treating it as a fundamental right that extends beyond academic engagement. Furthermore, universities should explore flexible policies that allow students to take breaks from their studies without sacrificing access to vital support systems.